Feet usually have an arch on the inside portion of the foot. A flat foot is a foot that has lost or never developed this arch.
Most flat feet are flexible. This type does not cause problems and does not require treatment. Rigid flat feet can cause problems and are best treated.
Normal Foot Arch
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Infants and young children naturally have flat feet. The arch should develop over time. Sometimes, the arch does not develop. It is not always clear why this happens. It may be associated with
Flat feet may develop because of:
Factors that increase your chance of flat feet include:
Flat feet may not cause any symptoms at all. Rigid flat feet may cause:
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical and foot exam will be done. Flat feet can be diagnosed by appearance. To determine if the foot is rigid, you may be asked to do some simple tasks.
If the flat foot is rigid and causing problems, you will be referred to a foot specialist. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Options include the following:
Physical therapy may relieve discomfort. You may be given a specific stretching and strength program. You may also have treatment to help manage the discomfort.
Exercises can help with the strength of the surrounding muscles. It may relieve some of the pressure in the foot.
Orthotics are shoe inserts that support the foot. These inserts may help to reduce pain and disability. In mild cases, a well-fitting pair of shoes with arch support may be all that is needed.
Flat feet caused by nerve or muscle disease may need special braces.
Feet that do not respond to the treatments above may need surgery. The surgery will help to create a supportive arch.
Well-fitted shoes with good arch support may help prevent flat feet. Maintaining a healthy weight may also lower wear and tear on the arches.
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons
Canadian Podiatric Medical Association
Nurses Entrepreneurial Foot Care Association of Canada
Adult acquired flatfoot. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00173. Updated December 2011. Accessed May 2, 2013.
Flat foot. UCSF Children’s Hospital website. Available at: http://www.ucsfhea.... Accessed May 2, 2013.
Pes planus. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us. Updated November 12, 2010. Accessed May 2, 2013.
11/19/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us: Rome K, Ashford R, Evans A. Non-surgical interventions for paediatric pes planus. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010;(7):CD006311.
Last reviewed May 2013 by Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 3/18/2013